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Barbecuing in Tokyo October 4, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food, Japan, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Barbecuing in Tokyo” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Ip

Tokyo is a tough place to barbecue.  Barbecuing back home in Canada involved a gas grill, a bunch of friends if they are available and a selection of meats and salads.  When someone wanted a steak, it was pretty easy to fire up the grill, throw on a couple steaks, and within 15 minutes, you were ready to eat.  No need to really do any preparations.  If you had a party, of course you had to prepare a lot but not that much.  If you wanted something good, you would have to marinate the meat overnight, and prepare all the vegetables and salads.  Grilling in your backyard was a very simple affair and something that people routinely did.  Tokyo, a city where there are relatively few, if any backyards, and if someone does have a backyard, it is usually very small.  Land space is expensive and prohibitive to having large yards.  Barbecuing in Japan presents its own unique challenges that must be met head first.

The first thing one must learn is that barbecuing in Tokyo is essentially illegal.  You cannot set up a barbecue on the side of a river or in a park.  It is illegal to have an open fire within the city limits of Tokyo.  Whether that applies to private property or not is unknown to me.  I have seen people with somewhat larger yards and balconies where they can barbecue, however being Tokyo and Japan, you do have to be aware of your neighbors.  One of my friends had bought a grill and started to barbecue in front of his house, outside his front door.  While the street in front of his house was primarily for pedestrians, as cars would not fit, his neighbors were polite but complained quickly.  After using it once, he never had the opportunity to use it again.  The only legal place to barbecue is within one of the city’s parks.  There are websites that direct you to the various parks within the city that allow people to barbecue.  Since Tokyo is such a large and dense city, they require reservations before you can barbecue at these sites.  The only problem is that these locations fill up very quickly and are usually reserved months in advance.  Unless you have connections or a bit of luck, you won’t be getting into these locations.  It can be a hassle to find a place in Tokyo for a barbecue, but thankfully there is one last emergency measure, an illegal barbecue.  There are just a few places around Tokyo where you can safely, yet illegally, barbecue.  I don’t recommend it but there are lots of people who do it.

The food and cooking style at a Japanese barbecue is slightly different compared to a typical American style barbecue.  I’m used to hearing about people grilling burgers, steaks, and hot dogs.  In Japan, it can be similar but in a very Japanese way.  I often see Korean style barbecue meats, or thinly sliced meats.  Seeing seafood is also very popular in Tokyo.  Vegetables tend to be the same.  Just putting raw vegetables on the grill and letting them cook.  Like most barbecues, you can grill almost anything you want.  One of the bigger problems with grilling in Tokyo is getting the fire started.  Coming from Canada, there is only one person I know of who has a traditional charcoal fired grill.  He has all of the items from the charcoal heater to the good charcoal.  In Tokyo, I had to learn how to set up a grill and get the fire going.  It is very common for people, including myself, to just buy charcoal and grab a bunch of old newspapers and figure it would be easy to start the fire.  I was very wrong and the first barbecue I had, it took about an hour to get it started!  The second time on was much easier for me.  I knew the idea of how to start it, but having a starter fuel is idyllic.  At the end of a Japanese barbecue, noodles and vegetables are brought out.  All grills come with a flat pan that is heated to create a griddle.  This griddle is used to cook yaki-soba.  Yaki-soba is a very traditional end to any barbecue in Japan.  If you ask any Japanese person what they should have at a barbecue, especially as a last dish, they will almost certainly say yaki-soba.  While I don’t like it, it is very common in Japan and should be expected.

Like any barbecue, in the end, there are no rules in what you must do or how you do it.  A barbecue in America/Canada is essentially the same as one in Japan.  While the food is different the idea of getting together with a group of friends to enjoy a beautiful sunny afternoon is no different.  The logistics are much harder in Tokyo but on the plus side, you can drink alcohol in public so having a beer or a glass of wine at a barbecue is perfectly acceptable.  Having a loud group of friends laughing the afternoon away is no different between Japan and North America.  If you ever get a chance, you should try having a barbecue in Japan.  If you can’t have a traditional barbecue where you grill outdoors, you can always go to a yakiniku restaurant instead.  It doesn’t have the same appeal, but it is better than nothing, and you don’t have to prepare anything.


Nabe August 2, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Nabe” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-nabe

Nabe is a very simple dish that is translated, simply as, pot.  A better translation of nabe is Japanese hot pot.  If you ever had Chinese or Korean style hot pot, you will understand the basics of this dish.  If you ever had shabu shabu, you will know this dish.  Nabe is a broad definition for meat and vegetables boiled in a pot.  It is one of the simplest dishes you could make, yet there are hundreds of different flavours to enjoy.  The simplest and most basic version is just a plain water nabe.  Making this can be very simple, but at the same time, like many types of Japanese food, it can also be very complex.  The dish starts off by placing the vegetables in the proper section.  Usually, harder vegetables go on the bottom.  Then, they add the thinner vegetables, noodles, mushrooms, tofu, and meat.  If you go to a restaurant, they tend to put everything together and bring the pot out on a burner.  Once it is boiling, you can dig in and eat.  Usually, there are various sauces to dip the food into.  Usually, you will get a ponzu.  This is a tart dipping sauce that goes well with vegetables.  They also provide a sesame dipping sauce which tends to go well with meat.  Unlike Chinese hot pot, where they mix a lot of sauces, including hot sauce, Japanese nabe avoids using too much sauce.

While the basic nabe is just meat and vegetables in water, you can have a variety of soups available to you as well.  The most typical is the Chanko Nabe.  This is a hearty soup that was originally created for sumo wrestlers.  Since it was made for sumo wrestlers, you must be a little careful as it was designed for people to gain weight.  Today, you can also make your own with pre-made soup packs.  Other popular flavours include miso, kimchi, and sesame.  Generally, when you eat these styles of nabe, you don’t use any dipping sauces.  It will generally taste good on its own.  After you have finished the meat and vegetables, it’s common to add udon, soba, or ramen into the pot to make use of the soup.  This is delicious as the meat and vegetable juice creates a wonderful broth for noodles.  The only down side is that people generally get stuffed from the meat and vegetables alone and usually there isn’t any room left for noodles at the end.  The only exception is the clear cellophane noodles.  They use a variety of styles that vary in thickness and length.  These noodles are generally eaten along with the meat and vegetables.  In the end, you can’t really go wrong with whatever soup you order.  If you make it at home, don’t worry too much about what type of meat and vegetables to add to the soup.  It doesn’t matter too much, but if you want to enjoy the soup along with the food, it’s best to pair the food with the soup based on the packaging.  Beef tends to go well with kimchi soup, and pork is better with a Chanko Nabe.  Don’t be afraid to mix things up if you want to.

Nabe itself is used to describe boiling food in a pot.  Shabu shabu and sukiyaki are variations of nabe, but not always considered nabe itself.  It can be similar to thinking about omelettes and eggs.  When we say eggs, do we think of omelettes as the first food to be made with eggs?  Probably not, but they are part of the same dish.  Shabu shabu is closer to Chinese hot pot than nabe.  The name shabu shabu is now synonymous with the sound of moving thinly cut meat or vegetables around in boiling water.  Traditionally, you grab a piece of meat or vegetable and place it into the put with your chopsticks.  Then, you wave it around so that it boils evenly.  Once the meat is brown, still slightly red, you can take it out and put it into the dipping sauces.  The dipping sauces are the same as a plain nabe with just water.  The major difference between this and plain nabe is that the meat will come out softer and almost fluffy due to the cooking method.  It will also taste lighter, yet hearty.  If you prefer sweet food, sukiyaki is a better dish.  This is similar to nabe in the fact that you just boil meat and vegetables in a soup.  The difference here is that the soup is much sweeter and darker.  They tend to use a shallow heavy pot rather than a deep pot to allow an even cooking temperature.  This dish tends to be heartier, in my opinion, even though it is sweeter.  The shocking part for most westerners is the dipping sauce.  One raw egg is used to dip the meat or vegetables just before eating.  In Japanese cuisine, it’s common to use raw egg for various dishes and for dipping.  The use of the egg helps to mute the sweetness and add a unique texture to the food itself.  If you don’t like raw eggs, you don’t have to use it.  It’s still delicious to eat sukiyaki without a raw egg, but for myself, I prefer it with a raw egg.

When looking for a restaurant in Tokyo, there are many places you can visit for nabe.  One recommendation for tourists would be to visit Amataro.  This is a large chain restaurant that serves both shabu shabu and yaki niku.  Yaki niku is Japan’s take on Korean BBQ.  This shop tends to be very busy and slow to bring orders, but due to their large size, they tend to have good English menus.  The quality is okay, but when you eat   so much, you won’t worry too much about the quality.  The second is Nabezo.  This is a middle class nabe restaurant.  They serve all types and they will be somewhat friendly to foreigners.  They do have English menus, but there won’t be many pictures on the English side.  It will always be best to go with someone who can at least read or speak some Japanese as this will help you find the best foods to eat.  Generally, both restaurants offer all you can eat, and all you can drink sets.  You can eat and drink as much as you want for up to an hour and a half.  It may not be the cheapest meal you will get, but if you can eat and drink, it’s well worth it.  Heading there in the summertime will be easier than winter as nabe tends to be a winter dish.  Do your best and hopefully you can enjoy great nabe.

Nabe Videos:

Shabu Shabu:




Nabe Information:

Nabe (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabemono

Shabu Shabu (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabu_shabu

Sukiyaki (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukiyaki

Chanko Nabe (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chankonabe

Amataro (Nabe restaurant):  http://www.amataro.jp/

Nabezou (Another Nabe Restaurant):  http://www.wondertable.com/app/tenpo/tenpo?code=Nabezou

Nabe Restaurants [Note that all sites are in Japanese]:

Foo Moo by Hot Pepper (Note that not all shops are dedicated to Nabe):  http://www.hotpepper.jp/CSP/psh020/doFree?SA=SA11&GR=G004&SK=4&FSF=1&FWT=なべ

Gournavi:  http://sp.gnavi.co.jp/search/theme/z-AREA110/t-SPG110200/p-1/s-new/c-1/


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